One of the problems with how the world is today is the constant pressure to be ‘perfect’ in all things. You run across this in everything from fashion (especially fashion) to academics. The problem with that idea is that we’re all human, and there’s no such thing as perfect.
However, when it comes to “imperfections” like dyslexia, and other perceived disabilities, we need to shove that pressure aside and speak up for ourselves.
Why Self Advocate?
There are quite a few reasons to advocate for yourself, so I doubt I’d be able to list them all, but these are the most important to me.
When you do stand up for yourself and start seeing results, it feels great. Don’t get me wrong, there will be people who give you grief, but you might be surprised at how many are willing to help. Bear in mind that the law is also on your side in cases of education, medical care and other institutions involving public service.
When you self advocate, you also make the world a little easier to navigate for people with similar problems. When changes are put into action, services and such are easier to access for more people, plus organizations benefit from the additional patronage.
Finally, you’re fighting stigma. I’m a firm believer that the majority of people out there are fundamentally decent. Stigma and prejudice comes from ignorance, and the majority of that ignorance comes from lack of face to face experience.
I equate it to coffee. As a child, you may have grown up with the aroma of coffee. You may not have tasted it directly, but you knew it’s brown, has a distinct, rich smell and adults seem addicted to it. That combination of information created a string of thoughts and perception in your young mind. Maybe it became a symbol of adulthood, or poor taste, if you didn’t like the smell.
Now, think of the first time you tasted it. Were you surprised at the flavor? Did it taste better than you thought it would? Worse? How different was the experience from your childhood preconceptions?
How the general population regards members of minority groups of all kinds is similar. Unless they happen to be a part of those groups, or have family who are, all they have to go off of are messages they get from their surroundings. From there, they form their own opinions.
The only way to confront any falsehoods is to meet and listen to members of those groups. That’s part of what self advocacy does. When there’s a problem, those in charge probably won’t realize it until it’s pointed out. When someone believes something false, they probably won’t realize it until they’re confronted with the truth.
Of course, some people refuse to change, but most people I’ve met are smart enough to realize when they need to change the way they look at something.
How to Advocate
In educational settings, there’s a set course of action in place for people with a wide range of neurological and physical differences to get the accommodations needed, but advocacy doesn’t end there.
Difficulties will pop up in the strangest places, sometimes. Stores can be very hard to navigate, as can the online world. Generally, you need to take two fundamental steps in kicking off advocacy: find someone who can help you and let them know the problem.
Usually, it’s best to stay calm and polite when you approach the individual or send an e-mail off. If you can speak directly to management, all the better, because they’re the ones who can implement change. Good managers will also be willing to take note of suggestions and ideas about how to make the store or service better, too.
Here are a couple of examples from my life:
- Doctor’s Office
This past May, I went in to get a physical. When I signed in, the receptionist gave me this paper to sign which had a few options to either accept or decline. The font was tiny, the layout was extremely crowded and I don’t think they could find brighter white paper if they tried. After a few moments of struggling, I gave the receptionist a slightly awkward grin and told her how hard it was for a dyslexic to read the font.
She immediately apologized, and I believe said something like “You poor thing!” That expression always makes me uncomfortable, but I let it pass with, “Ah, it’s ok. I’ve known about this since I was a kid.” She genuinely felt bad for me, and offered to have someone help me.
Now, I know getting help for someone can be an inconvenience, especially in a clinic setting with 500 more important things going on than getting someone checked in for a physical. However, it’s the patient’s right to know their rights and understand anything they sign. That’s why medical establishments must have ways to help people comprehend paperwork and privacy policies.
- Online Forum
Last week, I attempted to sign up to post on the discussion forum attached to Random Acts of Kindness, a charity I’m doing a pretty unique fundraiser for. (More on that later.)
Unfortunately, the anti-bot system they had set up was completely unreadable. There were lines all over the little window, and although I could tell there were letters somewhere in there, I couldn’t figure out what they were. Turns out that I’d managed to lock myself out, since I’d exhausted the four tries the system gave. I e-mailed them, explained how difficult it is for people with visual problems or dyslexia to enter the right code, and offered a couple of options.
I received the sweetest letter back from one of their staff, apologizing for the difficulty and saying how they want to be as inclusive as possible. Turns out that the feedback I’d provided is exactly what they were looking for. When I tried registering later, I discovered they’d switched their anti-bot system to something that works much better.
Sometimes, it can be scary to come forward with an issue, but when you do it in a nonconfrontational way often enough, it gets much easier with time.
Now, as for the fundraiser I’ll be doing, it’s called Endure 4 Kindness. I’m collection donations at this link for Random Acts of Kindness, and on November 2nd, I’ll be knitting for 8 hours or as long as I can in honor of everyone who donated.
Whatever I create will then be given away. I haven’t decided where I’ll be giving it to, though. Either one of the local homeless shelters, children’s hospital, humane society or an elder care place.
I’ve also noticed that you earn points for every dollar raised, which can then be applied to various charities. If I can get 500,000 points, I’ll redeem them to get a student a mentor for a year through iMentor.
So, if you’d like to help me out, please go here to donate. It doesn’t need to be much, even a dollar is highly appreciated.